LAKELAND - After several months of sunshine and warm weather, provincial wildfire and area fire staff are winding down from the wildfire season.
The wildfire season runs from March 31 to Oct. 31 and saw 196 wildfires that burnt 2,225 hectares in the Lac La Biche Forest Area this year, said Colby Lachance, Alberta Wildfire information officer.
While the regional forest area didn’t have any major wildfires that were out of control, she noted one wildfire caused by lighting, which was a common culprit of fires in the region this season. The fire is still “active but under control.”
The fire was detected July 14 at 1,275 hectares. It is in a remote area near Wandering River, roughly 56 kilometres northeast of Lac La Biche, said Lachance.
“No communities [are] at risk, no critical infrastructure,” she said, as provincial staff continue to monitor the fire.
The Lac La Biche Forest Area is about 40,000 square kilometres in size.
Municipal fire response
For the Lac La Biche County fire department, 28 fires were recorded this year, “which is seasonably low,” said John Kokotilo, the County’s manager of protective services and regional Fire Chief.
The reduction in fires and the winter season arriving doesn’t mean the fight is over, especially considering the very dry season experienced this summer and fall.
“There's a lot of dead grass and the forest is very, very dry, hence we were having wildfires right up to Nov. 1, which is very uncommon,” he said, adding the amount of snowfall this season could have a big impact on next year's fire season.
“Even with the snow cover, if we don't get much more snow or if we have a very dry spring,” the conditions next year could be troublesome, Kokotilo said.
Province-wide, two major fires occurred during the season in the Fort McMurray Forest Area covering 33,207 hectares and in the Rocky Mountain Forest Area covering 480 hectares all caused by lighting, Lachance explained.
The season overall was quite comparable to recorded fires over the last five years.
“It was a relatively average wildfire season this year to date in the province we've had 1,260 wildfires that have burned 153,124 hectares,” which is comparable to the five-year average that saw “1,112 wildfires burning 190,580 hectares,” she said.
Statistically, there were 148 more wildfires recorded this year province-wide, but the total area affected was roughly 40,000 hectares less, said Lachance.
One of the fortunate outcomes during this year's season is the reduction in the number of human-caused fires. Residents and tourists are following Alberta Wildfire guidelines, several advisories that were announced this season and the community campaigns, said Lachance.
“This year, 56 per cent of wildfires were human-caused, compared to the last year which was 67 per cent human-caused. So, we work hard to spread that wildfire messaging and prevention as much as we can. We would like to thank Albertans and residents in Lac La Biche for doing their part and preventing wildfires.”
Notify local departments
For added safety throughout the winter season, Kokotilo says indoor heating and electricity is still a cause for concern as usage rates typically increase and people are staying indoors.
“Everything works harder...more vehicles, your furnace, and your electrical, be safe. Make sure your appliances are checked out, and the fireplace is clean. Don’t overload electrical circuits and make sure your car is mechanically sound.”
Additionally, the fire chief reminds residents to monitor and extinguish any fires that may be lit in backyards or in designated public spaces. Even if restrictions are not in place, notify the department if you plan to burn, he explained.
“Please report if you're doing any burning, it just saves us from going to false alarms, making sure that our equipment is ready to respond if it's really needed… because there’s no permitting required, doesn't mean that you’re not still responsible for the fire. If it gets out of control, you can be charged.”